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Internal Documents Reveal How Hotel Reacted When ‘SoHo Karen’ Caused ‘Huge Scene’ and Situation ‘Spiraled Out of Control’

SoHo Karen Miya Ponsetto appears in two photos.

Miya Ponsetto appears in a mugshot (left) and in a screengrab from Keyon Harrold’s Instagram video on December 26, 2020 (right).

Internal documents filed in court on Monday revealed how staffers at New York City’s Arlo SoHo hotel responded to a viral incident in which a white guest wrongly confronted a Black patron about a missing cell phone.

The documents were filed by the hotel, which is a defendant in a lawsuit by the family of the Black patron who was wrongly accused.

Plaintiffs Keyon Harrold and Katty Rodriguez filed the lawsuit as the parents of Keyon Harrold, Jr., who was the person primarily caught up in the bombastic kerfuffle. The named defendants are the hotel, a security company, a hotel employee, and Miya Ponsetto.

Ponsetto became known as the “SoHo Karen” over the incident — “Karen” being a “pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman.”

The viral day-after-Christmas incident in 2020 led to national scorn of Ponsetto. Her image did not improve after she attempted to shush “CBS Mornings” anchor Gayle King during a sit-down interview.

Ponsetto pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime in a separate criminal case over the incident.

The Harrolds filed the civil case less than three months after the incident in question on March 24, 2021. The lawsuit has been quietly progressing in New York County Court at what might be cynically described as a glacial pace.

A spate of recent filings, however, included the hotel’s internal reports on the matter.

Chad Nathan, the hotel’s director of operations, penned a brief memorialization about the matter but followed with a more comprehensive email.

The initial blurb reads as follows:

A previous female guest (name and room number unknown) was sitting in the library and came to the front desk asking me to check the camera because she stepped away from the table for a moment and thinks someone stole her phone. As I started to look into the camera a different person came down from the elevator and the original person started accusing him of stealing her phone and demanding that he empty his pockets. I tried to stop it and have her wait somewhere else. She was very loud and causing a scene. As I started to deescalate the situation with the original gentleman two different people turned the corner (dark skinned) and she started accusing them of stealing her phone. Again I told her to go somewhere else while I investigated but she continued to cause a huge scene and even started grabbing the guests pockets. The guests backed away and ended up dragging her across the lobby causing a huge scene. I had security remove the girl from the hotel. About 5 minutes later an uber driver dropped off a cellphone that a previous passenger left. This could be unrelated. I apologized to the numerous patrons in the lobby. Right now we still have the phone dropped off by the uber.

The incident was listed as having occurred somewhere around 3:15 or 3:22 p.m. The initial report appears to have been written the day the incident occurred and probably very soon thereafter.

Nathan then penned a more lengthy email the next day, Dec. 27, 2020, just after noon.

It directly names Ponsetto as the woman who launched the tirade.

It also says Ponsetto initially approached the hotel desk to “apologiz[e] for yelling at me the previous day because she was confused” about her reservations.

Ponsetto then returned to the library table but came back to report that her phone was missing.

“She was positive that it was someone from the group of people sitting at the table (most of whom were African American),” the report says. “She asked me to review the hotel cameras.”

As Nathan’s computer loaded up for the requested review, “a different guest,” described as “dark-skinned but not African American,” emerged from an elevator to ask a different question at the front desk.

“Miya started yelling at him saying that he stole her phone and demanded that he empty his pockets,” the report says. “She even started grabbing his hands and his pockets saying that he was hiding the phone.  I told her to back away and to stop yelling and touching the other guest.”

That’s when Harrold and his son entered the picture, according to the report:

I attempted to diffuse the situation and apologized to this guest who had nothing to do with the incident.  While that was happening a father and son who were African American came around the corner (Mr. Harrold and his son) and she immediately started pointing at the son as if she was positive that he was the one who took the phone.  He was holding a cellphone in his hand and Miya was yelling that that was her phone.  At the time I asked Miya what background was on her phone and asked the son if I could see his background.  He and the father did not want to show me and that’s when Miya attacked them trying to grab the phone and reaching for their pockets.  Miya grabbed them and at one point was being dragged around as the father and son attempted to escape.

This commotion ended up moving from the front desk area all the way to the Livingroom.  Around that time I told Monier to call the police and I had already sent someone to find the security guard.  At one point there were three or four people on the floor in the hallway near the Livingroom.  The son was the first one to be freed from the floor and I asked him if he was okay and told him to walk to the restaurant to get away from Miya.  Mr. Harrold was up next and I asked him if he was okay.  He was still very upset so I asked him if he needed water.  I told him to take a few minutes and that I would be at the front desk when he was ready to connect.

Nathan then said he “ensured that security removed” Ponsetto from the premises.

He then found a pocket book on the floor which contained Ponsetto’s photo identification.

Other patrons who were present claimed Ponsetto offered to give them “a key of hers.”

“They said she told them she knows one of them took her phone and she would give them this key if they would return it,” the report continues. “They advised that they ignored her.”

An Uber driver arrived a “few minutes later” and claimed stated that “someone left it in his car,” the report goes on.

Nathan took the phone and secured it in the office.

Police arrived and asked questions; Ponsetto was gone by that point.

Nathan then said he went to the hotel’s restaurant to pen his initial report. By that time, he said Harrold and his son were also gone.

The next manager on duty later told Nathan that Ponsetto claimed the missing phone that had been left by the Uber driver.

That evening manager, Assistant Front Office Manager Dan Interiano, also told Nathan that “he has been getting a lot of phone calls because Mr. Harrold had filmed the incident and had it posted on social media,” the report then states.

Nathan said he then reported the matter further up the chain of command.

The plaintiffs, however, accused Nathan of additional conduct that is not included in the internal report.  The following passage contained in a bill of particulars filed on Sept. 22, 2022, in essence accuses Nathan of acting in concert with Ponsetto:

As soon as Plaintiffs KEYON HARROLD and K. H. entered the lobby, Defendants MIYA PONSETTO and CHAD NATHAN immediately focused their attention on them and disregarded all of the other non-African American individuals in the lobby. Immediately upon seeing the Plaintiffs, who are African American, Defendant MIYA PONSETTO ran over to them, and aggressively and violently confronted them. Defendant MIYA PONSETTO wrongfully accused K. H. of stealing her cell phone based on racial profiling. Defendant CHAD NATHAN, the director of operations at the Arlo Soho Hotel, assisted Defendant MIYA PONSETTO in her wrongful accusations based on racial profiling and stereotypes. Defendant CHAD NATHAN detained the Plaintiffs and demanded that K. H. surrender his cellphone. While the Plaintiffs were detained and being accosted by Defendants MIYA PONSETTO and CHAD NATHAN, PONSETTO lunged at Plaintiffs and grabbed at them, scratching KEYON HARROLD’s hand, and knocking his phone out of his hand. When Defendant MIYA PONSETTO racially profiled and subsequently attacked KEYON HARROLD and K. H. in the lobby of the Arlo Soho Hotel, Defendant CHAD NATHAN endorsed and supported her actions targeting the Plaintiffs.

A series of internal hotel emails filed under separate cover explained what happened from the position of other employees.

Cheikh Niang, a security employee, said he was preparing his lunch when another employee asked him for help. Upon arriving in the vicinity of the altercation, he said Ponsetto told him “this guy took my phone” and that Ponsetto “started to attack” and “tried to grab” the person she had accused.

The “[f]ather of the boy was defending him,” Niang’s email says.

Nathan then told Niang as follows with regards to Ponsetto: “I want this girl out.”

Niang’s efforts to “separate[]” Ponsetto and the person she’d accused were not immediately successful, the security employee wrote.  Eventually he said he “picked the girl up and asked her to leave.”

Ponsetto “grabbed her luggage” and then departed.

She came back around 5 p.m., Niang’s email says. Interiano “called for assistance.”

Ponsetto was apparently again sitting in the library.

“We kicked her out again,” Niang recalled. But he also said that employees “verified” that a black wallet and a cell phone were, indeed, Ponsetto’s — “[t]he Uber driver had dropped off the phone.”

Niang said he “escorted” Ponsetto out of the hotel after apparently giving her the items.

Danny Rosado, the hotel’s lobby host, indicated in another email that he was there for the incident and had been the one who went to retrieve the security guard.

“It definitely spiraled out of control quickly,” Rosado wrote.

Another employee, Mounir Jaaouani, wrote that Ponsetto had accused “3 different guests,” the first of whom “was a white male,” of “taking her phone.” Jaaouani said the “front desk manager” tried to stop Ponsetto but that the latter didn’t listen and went on to “try to accuse two [B]lack guys” of taking “the same phone” about two minutes after she had levied the first accusations.  Jaaouani said he feared a “physical fight” and called 911.

In a third email filed in court, Interiano wrote that Ponsetto “was being escorted out the door” as he arrived for work at 2:59 p.m.

“I was told that I had missed a crazy incident where people had gotten into a fight,” the email says.

About half an hour later, Nathan filled Interiano in on some of the particulars — including that Ponsetto may be the owner of the wallet found in the hall and the cell phone delivered by the Uber driver.

The story picks up again:

Around 3:50pm a woman tried to get back into the hotel but security was holding her at the door.  I went to the door and at this point she was looking for her wallet.  I go inside and bring her out her wallet.  I mention that I may have her phone, and ask her for her number so I could call and confirm that it’s hers.  The phone rings and so I give it back.  She goes in for a hug which I recoiled away from her.  She left right after that.

Shortly thereafter, Harrold Sr. approached the front desk, according to Interiano’s email:

He pulls me over by the staircase and begins to go over some of the details of what happened. He shows me the video that he had taken on his phone. I being choked up from what I had seen, I apologized to him and his son. I told them I’d do whatever it is that I needed to do for them. Gathering information and statement, to pulling up camera footage and talking with the police.  He asked me if I had any information on the woman and asked if there was any follow up since. I told him that I’ll start creating a report and gathering information, and to let me know how I can help.

Harrold Sr. returned upstairs, according to the email, but appeared again shortly later to indicate that he wanted to file an assault charge.  Interiano said he would gather the necessary information and call the police.

Keyon Harrold Jr.’s mother then called.  Interiano’s email says he provided the same information to her as he had given to Harrold Sr.

Interiano then wrote that he provided the police with “the attacker[‘]s name and email address” and a few other details.

The email chains appear to have been provided at the request of Heather Berti, the company’s “Corporate Director of People Services,” according to the various threads that were filed in court.  All are dated between Dec. 27, 2020, and Dec. 29, 2020 — within two days of the Dec. 26 incident.

The trajectory of the snail’s-pace litigation has been a bit bumpy as of late.

The hotel-connected defendants on Sept. 22 accused the plaintiffs of delaying, without any “reasonable excuse,” discovery paperwork that had been allegedly “demanded over a year ago.”

Specifically, the hotel-connected defendants sought medical records that would help detail the plaintiffs’ claims of mental anguish and distress.

“When a plaintiff places his physical condition in controversy, he may not shield from disclosure information material and necessary to the defense of the action, such as those relevant to the issue of damages, extent of injuries, and claim for loss of enjoyment of life,” the defendants pointed out on Sept. 22. That is a legally common requirement in cases of this type.

“Instead,” the filing alleges, the plaintiffs have refused to comply with those requests for particulars.  According to the hotel, the plaintiffs filed a response that referenced an “attached” exhibit.

“However,” the hotel-related defendants noted, “absolutely nothing is attached.”

The plaintiffs, the hotel next noted, “claim to have sustained physical injuries and severe emotional damages (including anxiety attack and mental anguish, flashbacks, nervousness, anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional upset, humiliation, fear of police officers, insomnia, depression, garden variety).”

“Plaintiffs further alleges that their garden variety emotional damages are valued at approximately ten ($10,000,000) million dollars,” the hotel-connected defendants then noted.

“Accordingly,” the filing went on, “plaintiffs’ willful and contumacious conduct to frustrate discovery proceedings warrants an order of preclusion. However, should this Honorable Court exercise its discretion not to issue a preclusion order, plaintiffs should be compelled to provide an authorization for Fredrick Bush/Eidolon Therapeutic Counseling, LLC; Charles Frazier [a social worker and therapist]; and the infant-plaintiff’s school records from 2018 to present by a date certain, so that defendants can be in a position to conduct meaningful depositions of the plaintiffs.”

The plaintiffs in an earlier document asserted that several of the defendants’ discovery demands were “overbroad.” For instance, the plaintiffs objected to a request for the “complete name and address” of any lender or “litigation funding company” that was funding the lawsuit.

The emails and internal reports are available here. Several of the Sept. 22 filings are available here.

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.